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ROCK OF AGES (National Tour)

Book by Chris D'Arienzo

(National Tour)
Lexus Broadway Series
ATT Performing Arts Center, Winspear Opera House

AT&T Performing Arts Center

Directed by Kristin Hanggi
Choreographed by Ethan Popp
Set Design by Beowulf Boritt
Costume Design by Gregory Gale
Lighting Design by Jason Lyons
Sound Design by Peter Hylenski
Projection Design by Zak Borovay

CAST (in order of appearance):

LONNY: Patrick Lewallen
JUSTICE/MOTHER: Teresa Stanley
DENNIS: Nick Cordero
DREW: Constantine Maroulis
SHERRIE: Elicia MacKenzie
REGINA: Casey Tuma
MAYOR: Rashad Naylor
HERTZ: Bret Tuomi
FRANZ: Travis Walker

ENSEMBLE: Angela Brydon, Lauralyn McCelland, Julie Nelson, Mike Backes, Sean Jenness

Reviewed Performance: 5/17/2011

Reviewed by John Garcia, Senior Chief Theater Critic/Editor/Founder, THE COLUMN. Member, AMERICAN THEATRE CRITICS ASSOCIATION for John Garcia's THE COLUMN

Ah, the 1980's. It was the Regan era and the birth a new TV channel, something called MTV. The era that saw the beginning of the career of a young Catholic girl named Madonna. The 80s brought as well the creation of a British band whose lead singer wore elegant make up and wild costumes. That, of course, was none other than Boy George and Culture Club.

The 80's were also the decade of rock bands whose lead singers sprayed mammoth, spiked, exploding mountains of hair to death, painted gobs of black eyeliner and make-up on their faces, and wore very, very tight pants. These bands tended to be led by a vocalist who had a range that soared to the highest note, screeching over slick guitar licks. They recorded loud, hard core rock tunes, as well as one big power ballad on their play list. These bands would tour with massive stage sets that had long runways so they could get close to their worshipping fans. Well, that and to pick out which groupies to be sent backstage for the after parties. This was rock and roll after all! Their concert lighting would hit your eyes with a rainbow of colors. The lead singer always had a blowing fan machine at the lip of the stage, so his long flowing hair would fly wildly.

How do I know this? This will make some of you gasp, but I attended several of those concerts in the 80's. I saw the tours of such rock gods as Journey, Styx, Van Halen, and my personal fave, Bon Jovi. I think I lost my hearing for a few hours after each concert. Their music was just head-banging thrilling and those piercing tenor lead vocalists were impossible to resist. So this musical theater addict also dug hard rock, so sue me!

ROCK OF AGES (ROA) first began Off-Broadway at New World Stages in October 2008 and ran through January 2009. It would transfer to Broadway in April 2009 at the Brooks-Atkinson Theater where it played till January 2011. Then the production moved to the Helen Hayes and reopened in March, where today it is still playing to packed houses. The production earned five Tony nominations, including Best Musical.

This show is yet another Jukebox musical - a term coined to mean a musical that uses already existing recorded or published music. Usually it is the catalogue of an artist or an era, in which a book is fashioned around them. Many of them fail. It is just near impossible to make those well known songs and lyrics fit into a story and actually make the audience believe and feel that those songs are written for that particular show. Broadway is littered with many flops of this genre. Two that made it through to become smash hits are JERSEY BOYS and MAMMA MIA. You can add ROCK OF AGES to that elite list.

The score for this show contains many major 80's rock hits from the catalogues of such hit music makers as Styx, Journey, Bon Jovi, Pat Benatar, Twisted Sister, Steve Perry, Poison, Asia, among others.

Book writer Chris D'Arienzo smartly knew how to take many of those hits and lock them into his book, with excellent results. He had a firm grasp on the feeling of the time and poured that into the book as well. D'Arienzo packed the book with lascivious adult humor and ribald one-liners. But that's what made it work. That was-and still is- the rock world.

ROCK OF AGES had that basic tale of boy meets girl, this time on the Sunset Strip in Los Angeles. They worked at the Bourbon Bar - homage to the iconic actual club on the strip-the Whiskey Bar. Within this bar was a set of wild, zany characters that inhabit both the club and the strip. D'Arienzo took the audience from the Los Angeles Mayor's office, to the Chateau Marmont (famous for, amongst other things, being the hotel where John Belushi died from a speedball overdose), to a strip palace called the Venus Club. I told you it was raunchy! But strangely enough, that's what made the music and book work in flawless harmony.

Director Kristin Hanggi had the right background to helm this production. Her r?sum? swam in both the theater and music worlds. She directed the hit musical BARE but also worked with the Pussycat Dolls, Gwen Stefani, and Christina Aguilera. Her direction for ROA broke the fourth wall, having characters react, adlib and talk to the audience. She wisely chose a continual theme throughout the show of "winking" at the audience. She knew how to let the audience in on the joke, and in on some of the predictable onstage moments.

Both she and her book writer took some characters to some unpredictable, surprising places; not all what you expect. Sure it had some sappy moments, but the message at the end actually worked with a sweet touch of magic and reality.

Scene Designer Beowulf Boritt used the Bourbon bar as the anchor set, complete with all the bric-a-brac you would find in a seedy LA bar. Pictures of rock stars, neon signs of beer brands, framed gold/
platinum records, and bras hung everywhere. The house band played dead center upstage. Within that central stage piece, various doors, stairs, an upper deck, and side areas opened up to create everything from the dressing room of the strip club Madame to the tacky bathroom at the bar.

Above it all was a towering video projection design by Zak Borovay that became a show within itself. It was fully used to generate major laughs.

Jason Lyons's lighting design was pure hard core rock and roll, with the recreation of all those stadium rock shows you attended. His lighting blinded you with spectacular color. It moved all over the place, sprayed across the audience, gyrated up and down ? just like a rock concert! The lighting design was outstanding and fit like a leather, metal-studded glove within the show.

The costumes designed by Gregory Gale screamed pure 80's. The entire cast was decked out in those clothes we thought were oh, so cool. His costumes not only made you laugh, but took you straight back to that fashion era.

The live rock band for this production kicked some serious butt! They literally shook the Winspear Opera house walls with loud, ear splitting rock and roll-which is how it should be! They were a phenomenal group of musicians that made the audience go crazy with excitement. Chris Cicchino (guitar 1) played some lip smacking, head banging, heart pounding guitar licks that would make Eddie Van Halen green with envy.

The first thing you noticed was how powerful this cast's vocals were. They belted the "muth-a" out of those songs with powerful sets of lungs. Not a weak singer in the company.

While many of the performers got in some great laughs, three actors, in particular, became the scene stealers with their comedic tour de force performances. This trio of comedic pros consisted of Patrick Lewallen, Travis Walker, and Peter Deiwick.

Patrick Lewallen portrayed Lenny, the narrator for the evening. He talked to the audience and told them not only what was going to happen but how it would happen. Lewallen chewed up the scenery with his hysterical one-liners and ad-libbing. His energy was outlandish and he is always on. If there came an unexpected, unscripted moment onstage, as happened Tuesday evening, he would pounce on it and create a comic gem moment that left the audience roaring in laughter.

Travis Walker played Franz, the son of the German financier Hertz who wanted to tear down the Sunset Strip to create a new, clean, family-friendly shopping mall. Walker's blonde hair and angular features reminded me of Max Headroom (that TV robotic character). Walker spoke with a side-splitting German accent and used his body like silly putty, which only added prolonged laughs from the audience. There were times when the audience applauded him as he exited because they all fell in love with his performance. You need to see what he did with his big solo in Act Two!

The last in the trio was Peter Deiwick as Stacee Jaxx, the lead singer of the famous rock band Arsenal. In classic rock history, Jaxx was leaving the band for "artistic reasons". Deiwick had a rock hard body with killer abs, which worked perfectly for his characterization of the ego maniac, self-centered, spoiled rock god. Deiwick relished the characterization and played it to the hilt. His portrayal of a famous rock singer was just what we would imagine he would be like "behind the scenes". His comedic timing and delivery was met with deafening laughter. Deiwick sang his solos with an amazing range for a tenor, full of thrusting, grinding rock vocals with a solid vibrato underneath.

There were others in the cast who also deserved a resounding round of applause and glowing accolades for their performances. These awesome performers included Nick Cordero as the owner of the Bourbon Bar Dennis Dupree, Teresa Stanley as Justice, the owner of the Venus Strip Club, and Bret Tuomi as Hertz, the German villain who wanted to bring down the gaudy Sunset Strip.

Elica MacKenzie portrayed Sherrie, our leading lady. As with every Hollywood tale, she was a girl from a small town in Kansas who came to Hollywood to become an actress. If you watched the BBC reality series about Andrew Lloyd Webber searching for a Maria for his West End revival of SOUND OF MUSIC, then you already know Elica as she won the role on the TV show! Here, MacKenzie was a breath-taking beauty with a massive vocal range that matched the rock boys note for note. In several solos, she belted full force and sustained long notes with not a hint of a crack or strain. She was sensational in this production.

If you are a reader of THE COLUMN, you are then keenly aware of my strong addiction and loyalty (until this disappointing season) to AMERICAN IDOL. In season four, my personal favorite contestant was rocker Constantine Maroulis. He and Bo Bice were the first true rockers to enter the competition. His rendition of the Queen classic "Bohemian Rhapsody" still stands as one of the finest rock performances in AI history. He placed sixth, but many AI fans (such as this critic) strongly felt he deserved to be in the final two.

But now Maroulis has the last laugh. As the leading character of ROA, he was "Drew", who worked as a bar back at the Bourbon Bar and had dreams of becoming a rock star. The biggest surprise in Maroulis's performance was not his voice, but his acting. This tall guy with that mane of long hair had great instinct and a natural acting craft. He knew where to zero in on the laughs, but also knew when to reveal the conflict within Drew with grounded believability.

Maroulis's comedic chops were first rate. Throughout his performance he received some of the best laughs of the night. But when he sang, well, there lay proof why he should have been in the finals on AI. My god, did that boy have a vocal range that was out of this world. He could soar vocally into that exclusive stratosphere only a few leading rock singers follow. Maroulis glided without a hint of vocal strain into those impossible high tenor notes and sustain it there for endless measures. He sang solos with such full-throttle vocal power, he had the audience screaming deafening levels of approval. After watching Maroulis's superior performance in this production, you could see why he earned a Tony Award nomination for this role.

ROCK OF AGES was a musical all us rock fans could honestly enjoy from the first drum beat to the grand finale that included guitar licks that had our arms up in the air, shaking the iconic rock hand gesture. This was a full (pardon my language here) ba**s to the wall, head banging rock show that had the audience screaming till they were hoarse. That finale was INCREDIBLE! It pumped your heart and made your head rock to the music with joyful exuberance, right along with the cast! You'll see what I mean when you go.

This show was not for the Rodgers & Hammerstein crowd by any means. If you are prudish, then don't bother. But I will tell you this. There were these two elderly gentlemen, well into their 60's, who sat a row in front of me and were on their feet, swaying to the music along with the rest of the audience!

Sure, it isn't musical theater art nor is it trying to be. ROCK OF AGES knows it's a show with adult humor, but it does it with a wicked wink to the audience. They acknowledge that they get the joke, so just join in and enjoy it. And I did! It is a superlative production that shouts "we will, we will rock you" from beginning to end.

Plays through May 29, 2011

Tuesdays through Saturday at 8:00 pm, Sundays at 7:30 pm with matinees on Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays at 2:00 pm

Tickets for the show can be purchased online at or by phone at 214.880.0202.

You can also go to the AT&T Performing Arts Center Box Office at the Winspear Opera House, 2403 Flora Street (open Monday through Saturday 10 am to 6 pm and Sunday 11 am to 4 pm), or at the remote Box Office at Park Place Lexus Plano at 10